Layers / Plys
There are two things to consider when talking about the layers of your table tennis blade. The first is the number of layers in the blade, and the second is what the layers are made from.
The number of layers in the blade can vary from 1 to usually a maximum of seven. Three and five ply blades are also popular. It is theoretically possible to have 2, 4, and 6 layered blades, but in practice this is rare. The number of layers in the blade isn't necessarily related to the speed of the blade though, so you probably don't need to worry too much about how many layers your blade has.
According to the Laws of Table Tennis, at least 85% of the blade by thickness must be natural wood. Without boring you with the details, this gives manufacturers some leeway to include layers made of such material as carbon fibre, aralyte, or glass fibre. The effect of these materials can vary - carbon is said to strengthen and stiffen the blade, while also increasing the speed and the size of the sweet spot of the blade. Aralyte is meant to also increase the size of the sweet spot, but is supposed to dampen vibration and give a softer feel than carbon.
They say you can't judge a book by its cover, and you also shouldn't judge a table tennis blade without trying it out with your normal rubbers. A blade that feels wonderful uncovered can turn out to be horrible to use, and not suitable for you at all. Wherever possible try to get permission to actually put your normal rubbers on the blade and play a game or two with it - under real match conditions. Holding the blade in your hand and bouncing a ball on it a couple of times just isn't the same. And considering the prices of blades these days, you don't want to make the wrong choice if you can avoid it.
Don't overdo it when upgrading your table tennis blade. A common mistake among intermediate players is to go from their beginning blade straight to a super fast blade. If you have only been playing for a couple of years, the chances are that you are not yet ready for the fastest blades on the market. These table tennis blades are designed for the professionals, and generally require a near professional level of skill to get the most out of them CONSISTENTLY. Anyone can hit the occasional amazing shot using a bat that is way too fast for them, but what about all the shots that you missed?
If you want your moment of glory when you win the tournament rather than when you hit the shot of the day, don't automatically buy the fastest blade you can get your hands on. Resist temptation and ask an experienced player or coach to watch you play for a while and then tell you what they would recommend for your style and level. You might be surprised by what they have to say!
The last thing to think about when purchasing a new table tennis blade is the cost. Blades can vary in price from only a few dollars to over $200 US!
Be aware that expensive is not necessarily better. What you are looking for is a blade that suits the way you play table tennis, not that costs you the most or the least. A cheaper blade may have just the right mix of characteristics that suit you best - so why pay any more than you have to? A good suggestion is to try to select a blade before looking at prices, so that you are not influenced by the price tag one way or the other.
I hope this guide will help when it comes to choosing the right table tennis blade for you. Use the advice I've given above to help narrow down your selection, then try to find a blade that feels comfortable in your hand, and that you like the feel of when you put your normal rubbers on it and play. Once you have found a blade that you like, only then worry about the price. After all, chances are you will be using it to play table tennis with for quite a few years! Now that you know what to look for when choosing your table tennis blade, why not get some advice on upgrading your rubbers to put on your nice new blade?